Privilege comes in many forms: class privilege, white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege and so on. Being privileged means that you “fit” in the society in which you live and reap rewards by virtue of just being.
Recognizing privilege isn’t just a matter of being thoughtful or empathetic, it usually involves sacrificing something. Sometimes it’s something big (like the belief that your success is due entirely to your talents and hard work) and sometimes it’s something small.
The person who sent this confession to PostSecret is admitting to feeling frustrated by giving up one of those small benefits that come with privilege:
Kids growing up in dense, urban environments often turn to basketball as their sport of choice. This is partly because it fits, in a physical sense. All things being equal, a basketball court takes up a lot less room than a football or soccer field. For the economically disadvantaged, it’s also relatively cheap to play. If you have a court available, you only need a pair of shoes and a ball. For this reason, whatever population finds itself in this type of environment tends to take up basketball.
That’s why the sport was dominated by Jews in the first half of the 1900s. Just like many African-Americans today, at that time many immigrant Jewish families found themselves isolated in inner cities. Basketball seemed like a way out. “It was absolutely a way out of the ghetto,” explained retired ball player Dave Dabrow. Basketball scholarships were one of the few ways low income urban Jews could afford college.
Today we refer to stereotypes about Black men to explain why they dominate basketball, but this is an after-the-fact justification. At the time, very different characteristics — stereotypes associated with Jews — were used to explain why they dominated professional teams. Paul Gallico, sports editor of the NY Daily News in the 1930s, explained that “the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind, flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smart aleckness.” All stereotypes about Jews. Moreover, he argued, Jews were rather short and so had “God-given better balance and speed.” Yep. There was a time when we thought being short was an advantage in the sport of basketball.
Never underestimate the power of institutions and how much things can change.
The Redskins have been in the news lately – on the front page of the Times, for example — and not for their prowess on the gridiron. It’s their name. Many native Americans find it offensive, understandably so. “Redskins” was not a name they chose. It was a label invented by the European-Americans who took their land and slaughtered them in numbers that today would be considered genocide.
President Obama offered the most tepid hint of criticism of the name. He did not say they should change their name. He said that if he owned the team, he would “think about” changing the name. But that was enough for non-Indians to dismiss the idea as yet one more instance of “political correctness.”
Defenders of the name also argue that the name is not intended to be offensive, and besides, a survey shows that most Americans are not bothered by it. I would guess that most Americans also have no problem with the Cleveland Indians logo, another sports emblem that real Indians find offensive.
In response the National Congress of American Indians offers these possibilities. The Cleveland cap is the real thing. The other two are imagined variations on the same theme.
The pro-Redskins arguments could also apply here. The New York Jews and San Francisco Chinamen and their logos are not intended to offend, and a survey would probably find a majority of Americans untroubled by these names and logos. And those who do object are just victims of “the tyranny of political correctness.” This last phrase comes from a tweet by Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, an African American. His response seems to make all the more relevant the suggestion of years ago by the American Indian Movement’s Russell Means: “Why don’t they call them The Washington Niggers?”
“Next to being a Hollywood movie star, nothing was more glamorous.” This breathless statement, quoted in Femininity in Flight, was uttered by a flight attendant in 1945. At the time being a stewardess was quite glamorous. Like motion pictures do today, airlines trafficked in “the business of female spectacle.” They hired only women who they believed to represent ideal femininity. Chosen for their beauty and poise, and only from among the educated, and slender, they were as much of an icon as Miss America. And they were almost all White.
Victoria Vantoch tells the story of the first African American flight attendants in a chapter of her new book, The Jet Sex. Patricia Banks was one of the first Black women to sue an airline for racial discrimination. She graduated from flight attendant training school at the top of her class and applied to several airlines. But it was 1956 and the U.S. airlines had never hired a Black woman. After 10 months of trying, an airline recruiter pulled her aside and admitted that it was because of her race. Which, of course, it was; airlines disqualified any applicants that had broad noses, full lips, coarse hair, or a “hook nose” (to weed out Jews).
Banks sued. After four years of litigation, Capital Airlines was forced to hire her. She postponed her marriage and took the job (airlines only hired single women as flight attendants). When she put on her uniform for the first time, she said:
After all I had gone through, I couldn’t believe I was finally wearing the uniform. I had made it. I was going to fly. It was such an accomplishment.
Individual women weren’t the only ones pushing to integrate the flight attendants corps. International surveys showed that citizens of other countries knew that America had a “race problem” and this was a problem for then-President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson. They needed to do something flashy and they turned to flight attendants to do it. If they could make Black women the face of such an iconic and high-profile occupation, they thought, it would help restore America’s reputation. According to Vantoch, Johnson “made stewardess integration his personal cause.”
That was 1961; in 1964 Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act mandating equal treatment in the workplace. The following year, in response to even more lawsuits, approximately 50 Black women were hired by airlines. This would make them 0.33% of the workforce.
Patricia Banks and her fellow first African American flight attendants, including Mary Tiller and Marlene White, would continue to face racism, now from co-workers, passengers, and supervisors. Banks would quit after one year, citing exhaustion in the face of emotionally draining feminine work and a constant onslaught of racism. She was a great flight attendant, though, and proud to show the world that a Black woman could shine in the occupation.
Sociologists Richard Zweigenhaft and G. William Domhoff began studying ascendance to the top corporate office 20 years ago and, while the population of CEOs is far from diverse, they report that they have been surprised to see as many women and minorities as they have. Today there are 80 white women, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans at the head of Fortune 500 companies.
In a discussion about their book, The New CEOs, at The Society Pages, they ask whether the rise of non-white/non-male CEOs is really a disruption in the distribution of power. Despite protestations to the contrary — “all CEOs, it seems, worked their way up from the bottom,” they say with tongue in cheek — almost all come from wealthy backgrounds. The rising diversity, in other words, doesn’t include class diversity.
With one exception: African Americans. Most African American CEOs, they show, did not grow up in wealthy families. ”Many,” they write, “grew up with parents who were factory workers, postmen, custodians, day-care workers, or house cleaners.” They refrain from speculating as to why they see this difference.
So, what’s next? Zweigenhaft and Domhoff make some guesses as to the near future. The people positioned to be our next Fortune 500 CEOs will have graduated from college, got an MBA or law degree, will be currently earning more than $250,000 a year, and now hold a senior executive position. Given these parameters, they conclude that:
…about two-thirds of those a step from the CEO office were white men, about 19% were white women, slightly fewer than 3% were African Americans, about 4% were Latinos, and about 8% were Asian Americans.
As the graph shows, compared to minority men, white women are far more likely to be rising into CEO positions in the near future. Women of color, as they say, “almost disappear” in the data. They explain that this likely has to do with their double minority status. When hiring and promoting, people tend to look for ways of connecting with the potential employee. A white man (usually doing the hiring) will see at least one thing in common with a white woman or a man of color. As an example, they cite a study of executives with MBAs from Harvard:
…female Jewish executives all agreed that being female was more of an impediment to their careers than being a Jew, but many quickly emphasized that being Jewish, or different in any other way, was not irrelevant. As one put it, “It’s the whole package. I heard secondhand from someone as to how I would be perceived as a pushy, Jewish broad who went and got an MBA. Both elements, being Jewish and being a woman, together with having the MBA, were combined to create a stereotype I had to work against from the first day.” Another woman explained, “It’s part of the question of whether you fit the mold. Are you like me or not? If too much doesn’t fit, it impacts you negatively.”
These dynamics affect your entire career trajectory, of course, but Zweigenhaft and Domhoff believe they become even more intense as people approach the top office. They conclude:
Culture (in the form of cultural capital), education, and class are all still in play. While gender and color remain the best predictors of who will make it into the upper echelons of the corporate world, beyond that, it’s intersectionality [of different identities together] wherever we look.
Thanks to Leticia, Caely, Anjan G., Liz, Bradley K., and Kelsey P. for their patience. Our SocImages email inbox is a hot mess, and sometimes things fall through the cracks. This is certainly true for the short video below, one of the responses to the “Shit Girls Say” clip that inspired a round of copycats last December. We decided to post about it belatedly because it remains a great example of something called a microaggression.
Microaggressions are “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative… slights and insults” (source). These are often subtle. So the recipient feels badly, but it can be difficult to explain exactly why, especially to someone who isn’t sympathetic to issues of bias. The Microaggressions Project has hundreds, maybe thousands, of examples.
In this video, Franchesca Leigh poses as a “White girl” and says many of the things that she and other “Black girls” hear routinely. To Leigh, these are microaggressions. They variously trivialize and show insensitivity towards race and racism, remind the listener that she is considered different and strange, homogenize and stereotype Black people, and more…
At the intersection of the trivializing of horrific violence aimed at ethnic/religious groups and the pornification of American culture, comes this “Anne Skank” costume:
[APOLOGIES: We were asked to remove the photograph and complied.]
Yes that is, indeed, a woman dressed up like Anne Frank, the Jewish child who hid from the Nazis for two years, only to be discovered and moved to a concentration camp where she died from Typhus. Her companions are dressed up like Nazi soldiers. The Halloween revelers who made the choice to sexualize and laugh at this 15-year-old victim of the holocaust are graduate students in a Creative Writing program.
Anders Behring Breivik has now joined the pantheon of homegrown domestic terrorists who have unleashed horror on their own countrymen. Sixteen years ago, Timothy McVeigh and other members of the Aryan Republican Army blew up the Murrah Office Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 of their own countrymen and women. It was the worst act of domestic terrorism in our history, and, indeed, until 9-11, the worst terrorist attack of any kind in our history. We know what Norwegians are going through; as Bill Clinton said, we “feel your pain.”
As pundits and policymakers search for clues that will help us understand that which cannot be understood, it may be useful to compare a few common elements between McVeigh and Breivik.
Both men saw themselves as motivated by what they viewed as the disastrous consequences of globalization and immigration on their own countries. Breivik’s massive tome, 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, paints a bleak picture of intolerant Islamic immigrants engaged in a well-planned takeover of European countries in the fulfillment of their divine mission. His well-planned and coldly executed massacre of 94 of his countrymen was, as he saw it, a blow against the policies promoting social inclusion and a recognition of a diverse multicultural society promoted by the labor-leaning government.
McVeigh also inveighed against both multinational corporate greed and a society that had become too mired in multiculturalism to provide for its entitled native-born “true” Americans. In a letter to the editor of his hometown newspaper, McVeigh, then a returning veteran of the first Gulf War, complained that the birthright of the American middle class had been stolen, handed over by an indifferent government to a bunch of ungrateful immigrants and welfare cheats. “The American dream,” he wrote “has all but disappeared, substituted with people struggling just to buy next week’s groceries.”
McVeigh and Breivik both sought to inspire their fellow Aryan countrymen to action. After blowing up the federal building – home of the oppressive and unrepresentative government that had capitulated to the rapacious corporations and banks — McVeigh hoped that others would soon follow suit and return the government to the people. Breivik cared less about government and more about the ruination of the pure Norwegian culture, deliberately diluted in a brackish multiculti sea.
For the past five years, I’ve been researching and writing about the extreme right in both the United States and Scandinavia. I’ve interviewed 45 contemporary American neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, Aryan youth, Patriots, Minutemen, and members of rural militias. I also read documentary materials in the major archival collections at various libraries on the extreme right. I then interviewed 25 ex-neo-Nazis in Sweden. All were participants in a government-funded program called EXIT, which provides support and training for people seeking to leave the movement. (This included twice interviewing “the most hated man in Sweden,” Jackie Arklof, who murdered two police officers during a botched bank robbery. Arklof is currently serving a life sentence at Kumla High Security prison in Orebro. To my knowledge, I’m the only researcher to date to have interviewed him as well as members of EXIT.)
I’ve learned a lot about how the extreme right understands what is happening to their countries, and why they feel called to try and stop it. And one of the key things I’ve found is that the way they believe that global economic changes and immigration patterns have affected them can be understood by looking at gender, especially masculinity. (Don’t misunderstand: it’s not that understanding masculinity and gender replaces the political economy of globalization, the financial crisis, or the perceived corruption of a previously pristine national culture. Not at all. But I do believe that you can’t understand the extreme right without also understanding gender.)
First, they feel that current political and economic conditions have emasculated them, taken away the masculinity to which they feel they are entitled by birth. In the U.S., they feel they’ve been emasculated by the “Nanny State” through taxation, economic policies and political initiatives that demand civil rights and legal protection for everyone. They feel deprived of their entitlement (their ability to make a living, free and independent) by a government that now doles it out to everyone else – non-whites, women, and immigrants. The emasculation of the native-born white man has turned a nation of warriors into a nation of lemmings, or “sheeple” as they often call other white men. In The Turner Diaries, the movement’s most celebrated text, author William Pierce sneers at “the whimpering collapse of the blond male,” as if White men have surrendered, and have thus lost the right to be free. As one of their magazines puts it:
As Northern males have continued to become more wimpish, the result of the media-created image of the ‘new male’ – more pacifist, less authoritarian, more ‘sensitive’, less competitive, more androgynous, less possessive – the controlled media, the homosexual lobby and the feminist movement have cheered… the number of effeminate males has increased greatly…legions of sissies and weaklings, of flabby, limp-wristed, non-aggressive, non-physical, indecisive, slack-jawed, fearful males who, while still heterosexual in theory and practice, have not even a vestige of the old macho spirit, so deprecated today, left in them.
Second, they use gender to problematize the “other” against whom they are fighting. Consistently, the masculinity of native-born white Protestants is set off against the problematized masculinity of various “others” – blacks, Jews, gay men, other non-white immigrants – who are variously depicted as either “too” masculine (rapacious beasts, avariciously cunning, voracious) or not masculine “enough” (feminine, dependent, effeminate). Racism, anti-Semitism, nativism, and homophobia all are expressed through denunciations of the others’ masculinity.
Third, they use it as a recruiting device, promising the restoration of manhood through joining their groups. Real men who join up will simultaneously protect white women from these marauding rapacious beasts, earn those women’s admiration and love, and reclaim their manhood.
American White Supremacists thus offer American men the restoration of their masculinity – a manhood in which individual white men control the fruits of their own labor and are not subject to the emasculation of Jewish-owned finance capital, a black- and feminist-controlled welfare state.
At present, I am working my way through 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, the 1,518 page manifesto written in London by Anders Behring Breivik (under the Anglicized name Andrew Berwick) in the months leading up to his attack. These same themes are immediately evident. (Quotes are from the document.)
(1) Breivik associates feminism with liberal, multicultural societies. He claims that feminism has been responsible for a gender inversion in which, whether in the media or the military, we see the “inferiority of the male and the superiority of the female.” As a result of this widespread inversion, the “man of today” is “expected to be a touchy-feely subspecies who bows to the radical feminist agenda.”
(2) Breivik spends the bulk of the document playing off two gendered stereotypes of Muslim immigrants in Europe. On the one hand, they are hyper-rational, methodically taking over European societies; on the other hand, they are rapacious religious fanatics, who, with wide-eyed fervor, are utterly out of control. In one moment in the video, he shows a little boy (blond hair indicating his Nordic origins), poised between a thin, bearded hippie, who is dancing with flowers all around him, and a bearded, Muslim terrorist fanatic – two utterly problematized images of masculinity. 3:58 in the video:
(3) In his final “call to arms” and the accompanying video, he offers photos of big-breasted women, in very tight T-shirts, holding assault weapons with the word “infidel” on it and some Arabic writing, a declaration that his Crusader army members are the infidels to the Muslim invaders. 9:02 in the video:
This initial, if sketchy, report from Oslo, and Breivik’s own documents, indicate that in this case, also, it will be impossible to fully understand this horrific act without understanding how gender operates as a rhetorical and political device for domestic terrorists.
These members of the far right consider themselves Christian Crusaders for Aryan Manhood, vowing its rescue from a feminizing welfare state. Theirs is the militarized manhood of the heroic John Rambo – a manhood that celebrates their God-sanctioned right to band together in armed militias if anyone, or any governmental agency, tries to take it away from them. If the state and capital emasculate them, and if the masculinity of the “others” is problematic, then only “real” white men can rescue the American Eden or the bucolic Norwegian countryside from a feminized, multicultural, androgynous immigrant-inspired melting pot.